Free Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand

Book: Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Hand
crowned by High Brazil’s minarets and glowing lights. Many nights as a child I had huddled with my bedcousins in the upstairs nursery, staring out the beveled windows to watch Miramar and the older children traipse across the Bison Bridge to attend masques in those gaslit halls, or begin the longer pilgrimage to the outskirts of the Narrow Forest where the Curators dwelled. By the time I was old enough to accompany our Patrons outside, I had learned that (alas!) the House Miramar was not as wealthy as the House High Brazil (that entertained the Botanists almost exclusively, in exchange for opium and atropa belladonna); that our own Doctor Foster had been sold to the House Miramar by the hydrapithecenes who had devoured his parents, for a vial of tincture of opium and a bolt of water proof silk (to which we attributed his predilection for laudanum and costly fabrics); that the occasional Ascendant visiting our Patrons must be entertained without question; that from the Curators we might demand orchids and textiles and cosmetics in return for our rarefied lust, but never ask for learning.
    Still, no Curator or Illyrian could have lavished us with as much affection and as many attempts at luxury as did Miramar. The original gold and indigo mosaic tiles glittered on our nursery walls, although there were many gaps in the intricate geometries patterned there. Our clothes were designed and woven by Curators at the Museum of Technologies, or obtained by them from Ascendant traders. In seraglios lit by dozens of electrified candles we entertained our Patrons, and slept in beds that had been imported from the Balkhash countries centuries ago. My room had a balcony overlooking the river, and my own tiny radiophone patched into the House generator. Late at night, after my last Patron had left, I would lie long awake listening to the pulsing strains of waltzes broadcast from the Museum of Technologies as I pored over the brittle pages of the volumes Roland Nopcsa had given me last Winterlong. Books with titles like The Ancient Life-History of the Earth and The Modern Changes of the Earth: Its Inhabitants Considered as Illustrative of Geology, and A Short History of a Great Group of Extinct Reptiles. And one cold and windless winter’s eve I picked up an Ascendant radio signal broadcasting from somewhere in the United Provinces. For hours I listened to a faint sweet voice telling an old, old story of a man redeemed by ghosts, until the signal, ghostlike itself, faded into the dawn.
    But there was no radiophone to entertain me now: only the featureless Magdalene with Her plaster hands joined, holding the beads upon which She counted the Decades. Five sets of beads; five Houses. In a whispered monotone Doctor Foster responded to Miramar’s Invocation of the Sacred Jade, the secret names of Desire. Fancy’s breathing had grown softer still, the smoky air warm and ripe with dreams.
    I must have dozed myself. It seemed that the figure of the Magdalene had gathered Her robes tightly about Her thighs. As I watched She writhed as though in pain,’ a sight made more horrible because of Her eyeless face. Her gown rippled and swelled until it tore apart. Then I saw that at Her feet crouched a boy with fair curling hair and grass-green eyes, beautiful as any Paphian mite. He might have been the twin of those other images of the Magdalene, a boy as lovely as She herself, but his lips curled in a cat’s cruel smile, and his green eyes winked malice. In his hands he held the torn hem of the Magdalene’s gown, and I saw that She bled from wounds in Her hands and feet. The shining stars upon Her robe turned to tears of blood.
    Then I saw that the boy was wounded too. About his neck hung a bit of cord, or perhaps a vine. It had left a red scar around his neck. But he did not seem to be suffering. Instead he smiled to see the Magdalene in pain, although She reached to him with Her white hands, to offer succor or perhaps forgiveness. I knew then it

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